Item description for Plutarch's Lives, Volume 2 (Modern Library Classics) by Plutarch, Arthur Hugh Clough & John Dryden...
Overview Offers biographies of Greek and Roman leaders and compares their personal qualities and accomplishments.
Publishers Description Plutarch's Lives, written at the beginning of the second century A.D., is a brilliant social history of the ancient world by one of the greatest biographers and moralists of all time. In what is by far his most famous and influential work, Plutarch reveals the character and personality of his subjects and how they led ultimately to tragedy or victory. Richly anecdotal and full of detail, Volume I contains profiles and comparisons of Romulus and Theseus, Numa and Lycurgus, Fabius and Pericles, and many more powerful figures of ancient Greece and Rome.
The present translation, originally published in 1683 in conjunction with a life of Plutarch by John Dryden, was revised in 1864 by the poet and scholar Arthur Hugh Clough, whose notes and preface are also included in this edition.
"A Bible for heroes."
James Atlas is the author of Bellow: A Biography and is the general editor of the Penguin Lives series. He lives in New York City.
1. As Plutarch says in the beginning of his Life of Pericles, "Such objects we find in the acts of virtue, which also produce in the minds of mere readers about them an emulation and eagerness that may lead them on to imitation." Can these lines be said to encapsulate Plutarch's project in writing the Lives? How is Plutarch more a moralist than a historian? How are morals and virtue central to the lives you have read?
2. Although Plutarch's Lives are, without a doubt, one of the greatest historical works of antiquity, Plutarch has often been criticized as an inaccurate historian, for including apocryphal anecdotes, citing facts from questionable sources, and especially for ignoring historical events that would contradict his depiction of the figure. Do these lapses in historical accuracy weaken the credibility of the Lives? Do they strengthen them by reinforcing his purpose in writing? Are such modern concerns about historical methods even applicable to a writer of antiquity?
3. Attempt to characterize Plutarch's moral beliefs as they are revealed in the Lives. What traits does he most esteem, and what traits does he most condemn? How does he depict these traits in the men he describes, and what is the lesson to be drawn from each depiction? Does he have moral consistency from one life to the next? To what extent do you believe these morals to be held by his contemporaries as opposed to a modern readership?
4. In the case of the "Parallel Lives," what purpose is served by the structure of Plutarch's biographies? Why dedicate a passage to their comparison? What were the criteria upon which he based his comparisons? Why did he choose to compare these particular figures to one another? Finally, why would Plutarch always choose one Roman and one Greek figure to compare? Was it to show the similarity of the two cultures to his Greek or Roman audiences, or was it for an entirely different reason?
5. While the bulk of Plutarch's Lives is concerned with historical figures, Plutarch also includes biographies of several mythological characters who held an important place in the history of Greece and Rome. What function is served by the lives of these mythological figures? How are these lives fundamentally different from the other lives he recounts? Does their inclusion weaken the historical believability of the Lives? Would it have done so for an audience of Plutarch's contemporaries?
6. Plutarch's Lives is a compilation of the biographies of the greatest men of antiquity. Consider the nature of greatness as it is depicted by Plutarch in several of the lives you have read. What characteristics are common to these great men? How does Plutarch connect their success and the character traits he admires? Can the depiction of such great men serve as a blueprint for greatness today?
It is no great wonder if in long process of time, while fortune takes her course hither and thither, numerous coincidences should spontaneously occur. If the number and variety of subjects to be wrought upon be infinite, it is all the more easy for fortune, with such an abundance of material, to effect this similarity of results. Or if, on the other hand, events are limited to the combinations of some finite number, then of necessity the same must often recur, and in the same sequence. There are people who take a pleasure in making collections of all such fortuitous occurrences that they have heard or read of, as look like works of a rational power and design; they observe, for example, that two eminent persons whose names were Attis, the one a Syrian, the other of Arcadia, were both slain by a wild boar; that of two whose names were Actaeon, the one was torn in pieces by his dogs, the other by his lovers; that of two famous Scipios, the one overthrew the Carthaginians in war, the other totally ruined and destroyed them; the city of Troy was the first time taken by Hercules for the horses pronuised him by Laomedon, the second time by Agamemnon, by means of the celebrated great wooden horse, and the third time by Charidemus, by occasion of a horse falling down at the gate, which hindered the Trojans, so that they could not shut them soon enough; and of two cities which take their names from the most agreeable odoriferous plants, los and Smyrna, the one from a violet, the other from myrrh, the poet Homer is reported to have been born in the one and to have died in the other. And so to these instances let us further add, that the most warlike commanders, and most remarkable for exploits of skilful stratagem, have had but one eye; as Philip, Antigonus, Hannibal, and Sertorius, whose life and actions we describe at present; of whom, indeed, we might truly say, that he was more continent than Philip, more faithful to his friends than Antigonus, and more merciful to his enemies than Hannibal; and that for prudence and judgment he gave place to none of them, but in fortune was inferior to them all. Yet though he had continually in her a far more difficult adversary to contend against than his open enemies, he nevertheless maintained his ground, with the military skill of Metellus, the boldness of Pompey, the success of Sylla, and the power of the Roman people, all to be encountered by one who was a banished man and a stranger at the head of a body of barbarians. Among Greek commanders, Eumenes of Cardia may be best compared with him; they were both of them men born for command, for warfare, and for stratagem; both banished from their countries, and holding command over strangers; both had fortune for their adversary, in their last days so harshly so, that they were both betrayed and murdered by those who served them, and with whom they had formerly overcome their enemies.
Quintus Sertorius was of a noble family, born in the city of Nursia, in the country of the Sabines; his father died when he was young, and he was carefully and decently educated by his mother, whose name was Rhea, and whom he appears to have extremely loved and honoured. He paid some attention to the study of oratory and pleading in his youth, and acquired some reputation and influence in Rome by his eloquence; but the splendour of his actions in arms, and his successful achievements in the wars, drew off his ambition in that direction.
At his first beginning, he served under Caepio, when the Cimbri and Teutones invaded Gaul; where the Romans fighting unsuccessfully, and being put to flight, he was wounded in many parts of his body, and lost his horse, yet, nevertheless, swam across the river Rhone in his armour, with his breastplate and shield, bearing himself up against the violence of the current; so strong and so well inured to hardship was his body.
The second time that the Cimbri and Teutones came down with some hundreds of thousands, threatening death and destruction to all, when it was no small piece of service for a Roman soldier to keep his ranks and obey his commander, Sertorius undertook, while Marius led the army, to spy out the enemy's camp. Procuring a Celtic dress, and acquainting himself with the ordinary expressions of their language requisite for common intercourse, he threw himself in amongst the barbarians; where having carefully seen with his own eyes, or having been fully informed by persons upon the place of all their most important concerns, he returned to Marius, from whose hands he received the rewards of valour; and afterwards giving frequent proof both of conduct and courage in all the following war, he was advanced to places of honour and trust under his general. After the wars with the Cimbri and Teutones, he was sent into Spain, having the command of a thousand men under Didius, the Roman general, and wintered in the country of the Celtiberians, in the city of Castulo, where the soldiers enjoying great plenty, and growing insolent and continually drinking, the inhabitants despised them and sent for aid by night to the Gyrisoenians, their near neighbours, who fell upon the Romans in their lodgings and slew a great number of them. Sertorius, with a few of his soldiers, made his way out, and rallying together the rest who escaped, he marched round about the walls, and finding the gate open, by which the Gyrisoenians had made their secret entrance, he gave not them the same opportunity, but placing a guard at the gate, and seizing upon all quarters of the city, he slew all who were of age to bear arms, and then ordering his soldiers to lay aside their weapons and put off their own clothes, and put on the accoutrements of the barbarians, he commanded them to follow him to the city from whence the men came who had made this night attack upon the Romans. And thus deceiving the Gyrisoeniana with the sight of their own armour, he found the gates of their city open and took a great number prisoners, who came out thinking to meet their friends and fellow-citizens come home from a successful expedition. Most of them were thus slain by the Romans at their own gates, and the rest within yielded up themselves and were sold for slaves.
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Studio: Modern Library
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 1" Width: 5" Height: 7.75" Weight: 1.15 lbs.
Release Date Apr 10, 2001
Publisher Modern Library
ISBN 0375756779 ISBN13 9780375756771
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More About Plutarch, Arthur Hugh Clough & John Dryden
James Atlas is the author of Bellow: A Biography and is the general editor of the Penguin Lives series. He lives in New York City.
Plutarch was born in 46 and died in 120.
Plutarch has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Plutarch's Lives, Volume 2 (Modern Library Classics)?
For the ages' tooth Mar 4, 2006
Twain's pejorative definition of `classic' need not apply. I define classic as that (text) which speaks to the heart over an extended duration - perhaps for several generations, as in `classic rock', or several millennia, as in Plutarch's "Lives". I probably never would have read Plutarch, were it not for a glorious discovery of Montaigne in mid-life. Having acquired enough distaste for the copious demands required to master classical languages after five years of Latin in secondary school, I made an arbitrary and direly misguided vow to eschew all Classics courses at the university level. And thus again is revealed the fateful difference between post-modern (post-1945), and the modern (c. 1500 - August 5, 1945) pedagogy, of which I unwittingly, if serendipitously, caught the tail end. The modern cannon required thorough immersion in the classics, and, for many years, Plutarch was required reading in the best schools, and should be even now. The author of the Shakespearian plays came to Plutarch by way of Montaigne (and likely read the Amyot translation, and only later the North, if at all), and the English schools came to Plutarch by way of Shakespeare. We might say that the revival of Plutarch was one of the most far reaching achievements of the Northern Renaissance. At one point in his celebrated chronicle of the self, Montaigne (as a shaper and bona fide member of that cannon, guardian of some of what is best in our cultural inheritance) amusedly reveals that, when his critics believe they are attacking his work, they are actually attacking Plutarch and/or Seneca, so profound is their presence in his writing, and, in his "Defense of Plutarch and Seneca", he declares that . . . "my book [is] built up purely from their spoils".
And what a book it is! But Plutarch's magnum (see the 14 volumes of the Loeb Classical Library for his other works), is the greater. Montaigne is one of the great students of the self. Plutarch is the first (and may yet still be the definitive) historian of virtue. Montaigne, in scrutiny of his own nature, seeks to recognize the limitations and potentials of the self, and thereby sketch our general spiritual contours. Plutarch, in an unparalleled series of real life, historically and culturally pivotal, examples, shows us what they are.
The book records in the most remarkably intimate style (Plutarch has few peers as a master of narrative and an uncanny ability to ferret out of detail the significance of individual actions as a unified whole), the major events in the lives of the most impacting figures of the ancient world. Therefore, like the best novels, the book forms a world in itself, a lost world, the world of our ancestors, through a landscape drawn of actions and consequences. The structure of the book is such that an account of the seminal moments in the life of a noble Greek and then of a noble Roman are brought forth in pairs, followed by a comparison. In some sections of the work these comparisons are absent. They appear at some point in antiquity to have either been lost to or removed from the text, which would seem to explain why, for instance, there is no comparison of Alexander and Caesar. But the comparisons are brilliant, and eminently instructive.
Of course, from the details alone, we may draw our own inferences. Alexander, as a mere teen, leading his troops in hand-to-hand combat, won his first battle fighting uphill at night. Caesar, a heavy drinker, was wont to ride horseback at full tilt with his hands clenched behind his back. He had a life-long passion for Cato's sister and it is said that from their relationship, which continued through their respective marriages, Brutus was born. Et tu? Of course, one cannot fail to mention, even in this briefest review of the abundantly rich description in the nearly 1,300 pages which comprise the book, the death of Cato the Younger - one of the most exquisitely drawn figures in the book. Hunted down with the remnants of his troops into the wastelands of Carthage by the army of Octavius Ceasar in an effort to snuff out the last vestiges of republican resistance and opposition to Empire, realizing that the last realistic hope for freedom is lost, Cato attempts ritual suicide (a Stoic custom common to Roman nobility) by disembowelment. As Plutarch describes the scene, ". . . he did not immediately die of the wound; but struggling, fell off the bed, and throwing down a little mathematical table that stood by, made such a noise that the servants, hearing it, cried out. And immediately his son and all his friends came into the chamber, where, seeing him lie weltering in his own blood, great part of his bowels out of his body, but himself still alive and able to look at them, they all stood in horror. The physician went to him, and would have put in his bowels, which were not pierced, and sewed up the wound; but Cato, recovering himself, and understanding the intention, thrust away the physician, plucked out his own bowels, and tearing open the wound, immediately expired." In Seneca's words: "For Cato could not outlive freedom, nor would freedom outlive Cato."
However, the life most appropriate for the contemporary reader, I feel (and wish that every member of the shadowy corporate/military junta that seems to be ruling us these days would read and take to heart) is the life of Crassus. Crassus was the most successful businessman in the history of the Roman Empire. Plutarch relates that at one time he owned virtually one-third of the real estate in Rome. However, such mind-boggling success was not enough for him. His yen, and later, obsession, was to be revered as a great military leader, a world conqueror, expand the domain of the already burgeoning Empire, and the object of his fantasies was the area of the world at that time known as Mesopotamia and Persia, today as Iraq and Iran. We follow as he makes extensive preparations, investing his own fortune and a great deal of the nation's wealth into outfitting an army for the venture. And at first, the invasion of Mesopotamia seems to go well. But the centers of population are spread out over great stretches of desert, and the occupation never really succeeds, because a central authority cannot be solidly established. Crassus, however, remains undaunted, even though the troops are becoming mutinous as supplies begin to run thin. Led on by treacherous advisors, he enters Parthia (somewhere in the vicinity of modern day Syria). Plutarch describes the grueling denouement with his usual detachment, aplomb, and gifted eye for pertinent detail. Having lost the greatest fortune in the world, he proceeds to lose his troops, then his sons, and finally his life. These lessons are never too late for the learning, and my apologies to Twain, but a classic is a text which retains its urgency to be read, and read now.
I read the Dryden/Clough translation. Dryden was never my favorite writer of his period, the late 17th century - hardly a match for Burton or Milton, in my opinion, but he was poet laureate, and this work I love - his English is fine, and resonates with classic dignity. Clough, the mid-nineteenth century British scholar who revised the translation, befriended Emerson when he traveled to England, and became a sort of mentor to the New England Transcendentalists in general. We can be grateful for such a wonderful rendering for one of the very greatest and edifying masterpieces.
A must read for lovers of ancient History Aug 24, 2005
A most concise volume of all the most important people of the Roman Empire.
A classic of character contrast Jan 24, 2005
Plutarch's parallel lives, parallels the life of a great Greek with a great Roman. Theseus and Romulus, Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Ceasar. There are forty- six such pairs which tell not only the story of the individuals but of their society . Plutarch brings to bear his tremendous learning from a wide variety of sources . Plutarch's first interest is in the character of the people he writes about, and the moral lessons he can draw from comparison of the lives. His work has had great influence and provided inspiration and material to Shakespeare, Montaigne, Browning and others. The reading of the work is not always easy, and there are strange and questionably credible tales and details but the work is humanly alive. The reading and studying of it was once considered a basic part of true humanistic education, and not the confine of a few scholars in the classic departments of universities. It once had broad reader appeal and anyone with a keen interest in biography, and the subject of how lives have been lived in worlds far from our own, would do well if not to read this work cover- to- cover than at very least have a good read in it.
essential reference May 26, 2003
I have now plowed through the second and final volume of this series, and though my energy began to flag, I still think this is one of the great classics of all time. Though not exactly chronological, the stories in this volume tend to occur later than in the first volume and are often longer, which is understandable given that Julius Caesar and Alex the Great are covered in this volume. THe stories are also more intricately interwoven - you get lives that overlap, such as those of Brutus and Caesar, with slightly different takes and details in each one. The upshot of all this is that the serious reader will need to keep this around as a reference, going over the text again when some question of detail comes up or to refresh one's point of view. Plutarch's take on things is very different from that of many authors: he is a pro-aristocrat conservative and admiring of martial prowess, yet pro-Republican. Once again, the reader really needs to know the historical context before undertaking this. It is not at all introductory.
Warmly recommended. Though it takes real effort at times to continue, it is well worth the slog.
very interesting book, but..... Aug 13, 2001
Although it's a very good translation, I prefer to read the books of Plutarchos in the original Greek texts because the version of Dryden is now somewhat obsolete. And if you don't understand the ancient Greek language well, I recommend you to read several volumes of Plutarch in THE LOEB CLASSICAL LIBRARY.